Karen Cheser was selected unanimously Thursday by the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education to be the next superintendent.
Cheser is the current superintendent of Fort Thomas Independent Schools in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati. It is the No. 1 rated school district in the state by niche.com, an online K-12 and college rating service.
“I think fit is the key word,” said board member Mick Souder. “All the candidates were excellent. When you look back, Dr. Cheser seemed to be the best fit.”
Board member Teresa Rodriguez said she noticed Cheser energized teachers and people when she met them during community and school meetings conducted this week.
The selection of Cheser was approved 5-0, and the board then voted to go into executive session to begin salary and benefit discussions with her.
During her address to a community luncheon Tuesday, Cheser said she had visited Durango twice before, once as a small child on a 29-state, whirlwind, three-week family vacation, and she remembers Durango as her favorite stop.
Her second visit came as an adult on a road trip to visit her brother who at the time was living in Arizona. She purposely routed through Durango based on her childhood memories.
Board member Andrea Parmenter said Cheser emerged as the favorite candidate in all three different tiers of measurement in a survey community members were asked to fill out after the community luncheon.
Amiah Hanson, 16, a sophomore at Durango High School and the student representative on the school board, said, “Dr. Cheser had a vision I felt resonated with a lot of people.”
At Fort Thomas schools, Cheser’s resume says the district’s high school increased 120 places in the 2020 US News and World Report school rankings.
Similar to 9-R, Fort Thomas during Cheser’s tenure developed a portrait of a graduate with stakeholder input. The portrait of a graduate is intended to prepare students for the future workplace.
Before leading the Fort Thomas schools, Cheser was deputy superintendent and chief academic officer for Boone County Schools in Kentucky. Boone County Schools has about 25,000 students and is the third largest district in the state.
She held three different positions at Boone County schools from 2009 to 2017.
The other finalists were:
Andrew Burns, who currently leads training, staff evaluation and employee recruitment and retention strategies for the Pueblo School District. From 2018 to 2020, Burns served as 9-R’s deputy superintendent, providing guidance to the district’s two high school principals and the athletic director. Burns also oversaw the district’s discipline process and served as liaison to Durango’s charter schools. He lived in Durango from 2006 to 2020.
Robert Lundin, who currently serves as a strategic consultant with Burns/Van Fleet Educational Consulting of Houston, providing advising services to multiple urban superintendents and school boards about long-term strategies to strengthen their districts. His previous job was as assistant commissioner with the Tennessee Education Department, where he led the state agency responsible for policy and oversight of the state’s charter schools, virtual schools and nonpublic schools.Twenty-eight total candidates initially applied for the position, and two were eliminated because they did not meet threshold qualifications established by the board.
9-R will likely be paying Cheser substantially more than current superintendent, Dan Snowberger, who was hired in 2012, and makes $169,320 annually. Snowberger announced in mid-November this would be his last year leading 9-R.
Linda Dawson, a senior partner with Aspen Group International, which assisted 9-R in its search for a new superintendent, has told school board members the district is on the low end of superintendent salaries in Colorado.
According to the Aspen Group International, two districts similar to 9-R, Steamboat Springs and Cheyenne Mountain, pay their superintendents $201,000, and $265,000 respectively.